Total War: Warhammer II – Rise of the Tomb Kings DLC (PC) Review: Look On My Armies And Despair

Total War: Warhammer II - Rise of the Tomb Kings DLC (PC) Review: Look On My Armies And Despair

During the launch of Total War: Warhammer II last year, there was a conspicuous absence of the Tomb Kings from the list of factions that populate the New World. With the Rise of the Tomb Kings DLC, Creative Assembly are rectifying that, bringing the Tomb Kings to the forefront in a way that respects the faction’s lore and makes them stand out from the rest of the Warhammer races.

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Total War: Warhammer II – Rise of the Tomb Kings DLC (PC) – images for this review provided by Creative Assembly and Sega.

The Tomb Kings are the Warhammer universe’s riff on Ancient Egypt, a long lost empire that has risen from the grave and seeks to reclaim its former glory and territory. But unlike their fellow undead Vampire Counts, who specialize in raising armies rapidly to expand quickly, the Tomb Kings are far more insular and protective of their holdings. They are a defence-oriented faction as a result, but that doesn’t mean these mummies are lacking on the battlefield.

In general, the Tomb Kings focus on fielding legions of weaker infantry and fast moving chariots to overwhelm their enemies, while powerful animated statues like the Ushabti and Necrosphinx use their higher defense and attack to crush them. Your starting units are relatively weak, and will die quickly, but they are meant to hold the line for your more specialized units to dominate the enemy. This is further reflected in their unique healing mechanic, which heals your army and resurrects some of the dead after certain number of your own soldiers are killed. Never before has it been this fun or strategic to watch your men get slaughtered.

Total War: Warhammer II - Rise of the Tomb Kings DLC (PC) Review: Look On My Armies And Despair
Total War: Warhammer II – Rise of the Tomb Kings DLC (PC) – images for this review provided by Creative Assembly and Sega.

Unlike other factions across both Warhammer games, the Tomb Kings do not need to pay gold for units or their upkeep. Instead, each unit has a cap on the total amount that can be built at any time, with the cap only rising as more military infrastructure is built in your cities. This breeds caution, as you must carefully avoid stretching your forces too thin while simultaneously conquering enough to keep your finances in good health.

In a departure from previous Total War: Warhammer faction DLC, Rise of the Tomb Kings also does not come with a mini campaign. Instead, players have the choice of four legendary lords with their own starting positions instead of two. I welcome the change, as each of the new lords feel far more fleshed out, both in the diversity of their abilities and their starting locations, than previous DLC leaders. My personal favourite is Grand Hierophant Khatep, who starts out in the Dark Elves’ home continent of Naggaroth and must contend with them and Norscan raiders in his opening turns.

Ultimately, Rise of the Tomb Kings is a sign that Creative Assembly are more than willing to experiment with the Total War formula to create unique and engaging factions that fit with the established lore. If future DLC is as strong as this, Warhammer and Total War fans everywhere can continue to look forward to conquering the world in increasingly entertaining ways.

Total War: Warhammer II - Rise of the Tomb Kings DLC (PC) Review: Look On My Armies And Despair 1
Total War: Warhammer II – Rise of the Tomb Kings DLC (PC) – images for this review provided by Creative Assembly and Sega.

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Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs (PC) Review – A Little Less Regal

Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs (PC) Review - A Little Less Regal

So I am one of those jaded anime fans who went through their phase of loving hyperactive, cutesy stuff and came out the other side bitter and cynical, at least as far as anime is concerned. Probably in other ways too, but the point is that when I started up Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs, I was immediately turned off. Everything felt so bright and optimistic, utterly cheerful, and ultimately toothless; luckily, all of that turns out to be façade fairly quickly.

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Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs – gameplay images via Klabater

Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs tries to be a lot of things, but, at its core, it is a strategic role playing game that emphasizes its somewhat archetypical characters in its storytelling. Essentially, the main character and his two sisters are the last scions of some great and noble family. The ancestral lands have fallen into disrepair, and the siblings, with a suitably honour-obsessed knight in tow, revisit the crumbling castle that was once their home, only to find it slightly haunted and besieged by a particularly pushy debt collector.

The actual game play takes its cues from more tactically minded RPGs. The characters all have their own sets of abilities, most of which do not seem particularly useful, but which end up having some interesting effects on the battles. It is important to note, however, that the happy anime graphics and the silly humor hide a game that can get extremely difficult without much warning. Fights are certainly not impossible, but the numerous status effects are poorly explained and some outside the box thinking can go a long way. Going for the bonus objectives will lead to several restarts and a few fistfuls of hair.

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Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs – gameplay images via Klabater

When not forcing players to strategically fight for their lives, Regalia sets them to the task of rebuilding their neglected kingdom to, hopefully, attract new subjects and maybe revitalize the long defunct economy, anything to pay off those debt collectors. This boils down to both building new structures and improving your relationships with the people in your kingdom. All of your actions can have ramifications for both your kingdom as a whole and for the foreign nations you deal with and take in-game time, which is typically pretty limited. See, your loan shark’s coming to get his due, and, if you haven’t completed enough tasks by the time they get there, you’re in for a bad time. Pay your bills.

The characters here are all on the shallow side. They exist as fairly blatant archetypes that don’t go through much in the way of character development. The dialogue tries very hard to come off as comical and Regalia wears its influence from the Disgaea series on its sleeve. From the difficult tactical combat to the simultaneously silly and dark themes present throughout, Regalia aims to fulfil a very specific niche, which will turn off a lot of gamers. To be fair, it comes off as genuinely amusing every so often, but that’s going to be very hit or miss for most players.

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Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs – gameplay images via Klabater

The sound design in Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs is nothing to write home about. The music is largely forgettable, and the voice acting is well performed, but often obnoxious. Don’t let that statement mislead you into thinking that the developers didn’t care about it – they clearly did and it shows: the voice acting is quality, but the actual content can get very unappealing very quickly.

Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs’ approach to dungeons is pretty interesting. Rather than combing through cavern depths or dense jungles yourself, the player is presented with a simplified map with several different events, which can be battles, character interactions, choose your own adventure style passages, or one-time save points. It is important to note that Regalia does not shower the player with autosaves, as is the custom with many modern games. Saving is a deliberate act, perpetrated at your home base and at campfires on a dungeon map. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, just something to be aware of after you’ve been retrying that one battle over and over again for the better part of an hour and quit out of frustration. Don’t be like me, dear reader, don’t lose significant progress and time you’ll never get back because you forgot to save before you went out questing.

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Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs – gameplay images via Klabater

So, look, Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs is a solid game. It’s got a vibrant anime art style and a great deal of interesting systems at play. The story will turn off some players pretty quickly, and it’s certainly not for casual gaming sessions, despite how friendly it looks. The real draw is the gameplay, which will be extremely rewarding if you take the time to understand all its ins and outs.

Plague Road (PC) Review – Intriguing With Little to Say

Plague Road (PC) Review - Intriguing With Little to Say

The artistic atmosphere created through the visuals Plague Road offer a dizzying variety of steampunk detail, bringing players to a time of clockwork soldiers and mechanical witches fighting a disease that seems to permeate the very air. It’s unfortunate that the game behind this look just isn’t very compelling.

The visuals set up in Plague Road are an engrossing world of illness, machines, and death. Each of the game’s characters and monsters look great, offering complex steampunk looks at healers, soldiers, and other beings, as well as some varied, mutated appearances for dogs, golems, and additional creatures. They each capture the game’s strong visual style, all of which hints at sickness and the efforts to stave it off with its use of sickly yellows and festering reds.

Plague Road (PC) Review 5This world showcases that it is unwell through the colour choice. The way the monsters lurch about and stare or the tones of their exposed, twisted flesh hint at the violent way the plague has affected them. They seem to be in pain just from their appearance, telling a strong story with visuals alone. The rescued victims and doctors continue this story, covered in steel plates and armour all over to keep them safe from the world outside. It’s a striking look that is wonderful in its detail and ability to tell a story without words.

As sick as the world looks, it’s up to players to head out into this place and bring back as many survivors as they can. This involves going through four different generated areas, all of which consist of long hallways with enemies in them as well as doorways down new paths. The generation doesn’t add much to the game since many of these halls all look mostly the same, but it shuffles which enemies, victims, and items you’ll find, adding some variety to each run.

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Victims are what you’ll want to find most on these trips. They’re strewn about each area in random numbers, sitting out in the field, and if you click on them, they will return to your home base. You can only access these new people by going back to your base, but since they can offer whole new combatants to help in the monster-filled fields, the first few runs will likely end quickly as you return home to unwrap your new ally.

Victims can be witches, engineers, soldiers, healers, and peasants, and they all offer different powers, many of which are as random as the characters you find. Some healers can restore hit points, while others offer regeneration and party-wide buffs. An engineer might fire a single rocket or summon a field-clearing train. It makes each victim reveal feel exciting, offering more than just a class to add to your party.

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Unwanted victims can be used around your home base to boost its capabilities. This base has buildings for each class where players can retire a victim in order to progress toward unlocking an ability or boost they can add to that class (or just something useful in general). The drag is that it takes a lot of victims to power these structures up, and the game’s randomized nature means that players will have to grind out areas in order to hopefully get more.

The combat in Plague Road is quite simplistic despite its array of powers. Players and enemies will move around a tiny grid, most of the time able to hit each other right from the beginning of each battle, or within a few steps, making the grid feel almost pointless. Also, despite the enemies showing great visual detail, there aren’t that many types, and most all fight in the same ways, making battles feel repetitious.

There is also no benefit to combat. Players don’t gain experience or find items by beating monsters, so it’s better to just avoid fighting at all. Still, that’s just about impossible on the game’s narrow, sidescrolling maps, so you’ll often end up in recurring battles that don’t help you in any way. Sure, you get leaves from each victory that you can turn into healing items at your base, but the game puts a very strict restriction on how many you can carry into the field, so the leaves become almost pointless within a half hour.

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It doesn’t help that combat simply isn’t that challenging. Enemies don’t feel like they do enough damage to be much of a threat, and since they just attack party members at random, there is little sense of danger. That can be compounded by players getting victims with extremely strong attacks, some of which can wipe out whole parties of enemies.

Plague Road seems to seek challenge through attrition rather than through engrossing encounters. The player is worn down by repeated fights against dopey enemies, and with the small cap on healing items, this means repeated returns to base or repeated forays to collect victims to retire to upgrade the base to carry more healing items.

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There’s no avoiding this. Since combat is difficult to avoid on the straight paths and there is no way to know if you’re going the right way on randomized maps, that means many battles. With few healing items, that also means mandatory upgrades. A few transportation abilities means you can grind in new areas you discover, but overall, it just feels like you grind the same easy fights for hours just to survive to the easy fights of the next area, hoping to find victims as you steadily plod to the game’s conclusion.

The visuals in Plague Road may tell an intriguing story, but the rest of the game has very little to say. It’s a game where combat is the main thing the player will be doing, but its decision to weaken players over time with easy battles that are hard to avoid—and offer little benefit—makes fighting boring. It’s pretty in its sickness, but the bulk of its play is just pure tedium.

Antihero Review – Wonderfully Designed

Antihero Review - Wonderfully Designed

Tabletop-tinted video games fascinate me, especially asynchronous ones. Does anyone remember the glory days of Advance Wars, passing around your Game Boy to a group of friends taking turns blowing each other up? It’s a unique experience, and one I wish we saw more of. Antihero could very easily be a tabletop game. It has a lot of slow-going sensibilities and rulesets that are reminiscent of the genre, but the beautiful artwork and animations help bring it to life.

Read moreAntihero Review – Wonderfully Designed

Phantom Brave (PC) Review

Phantom Brave (PC) Review

I can’t exactly ascertain when strategy RPGs (SRPGs) got their hold on me. I’ve posited a few potential situations before, but the first real big revelation came with the inaugural Shining Force, Ogre Battle, and Final Fantasy Tactics entries. Those were like a gateway of sorts into a long string of NIS games that grabbed and never let go. They pretty much had me at hello with Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, before Disgaea managed to capture the attention of pretty much anyone even remotely interested in the genre. But because of the massive success of that series a few games went relatively unnoticed by many. One such title is the lovely Phantom Brave.

Read morePhantom Brave (PC) Review

Little King’s Story (PC) Review

Little King’s Story (PC) Review

When I first played Pikmin in 2001 it was unlike anything I had experienced in the RTS genre considering my only reference at the time was Starcraft. Pikmin took similar fundamentals and applied them in a creative and approachable way. Looking back on it, Pikmin was the first example of Nintendo’s ability to take established genres and reinvent them in fun, creative ways. And yet surprisingly, even with how often developers try to capitalize on popular or inventive works by emulating them, more games like Pikmin don’t exist.

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Little King’s Story is the only game I know in which the selling feature is its similarity to Pikmin, and I mean that in the least cynical way possible. Unfortunately, I missed Little King’s Story when it was released on the Wii but thankfully it did see a re-release on Steam to satisfy all my monarchic desires!

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Little King’s Story puts the player in the position of a little king chosen by destiny, or so the not-at-all suspicious Captain tells you. But you won’t stop at just one little kingdom; global domination is the name of the game here and the player can only achieve this plan by defeating the evil UMA (Unidentified Mysterious Animals) that roam the land. It’s actually a really funny story, delivered so innocently, and yet, I can’t help but feel like it questions your morality a bit. Here you are, enacting a plan of violent global domination, but it’s okay because the “monsters” are “evil?”

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Gameplay is quite rightly compared to that of Pikmin. The king must recruit his subjects and use them for various tasks. Where Pikmin felt a little more organic in its approach, Little King’s Story takes on RPG elements, allowing the player to choose to build structures that can assign different jobs to subjects, or ones that will allow for a larger total of villagers. Combat plays out similar to Pikmin: the player literally throws them at danger until they pummel the danger to death, but it’s a good structure that feels fun and fast-paced while still requiring some degree of strategy, especially when facing multiple enemies.

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Where it emulates Pikmin, it does so admirably, feeling very much like it has its own identity despite being built upon the same foundation. It’s a genuinely charming game and the humorous tone is backed by the use of classical music. The game opens on the second march of Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 and the boss music is the finale of Rossini’s William Tell Overture. This connection to reality does give it a sense of child-like wonder, like the events taking place are really just a child playing make-believe, which help make the story’s darker tones all the more adorable.

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Unfortunately, Little King’s Story does lack a lot of the polish that Pikmin had. The whole game looks kind of cheap, most notably in character movements, and feels very janky while lacking the fluidity that Pikmin had. While it also bears the chibi aesthetic, it’s graphically unimpressive, even for something that debuted on the Wii.

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My biggest issue with the PC port of Little King’s Story is the below-par performance. I should have known there’d be problems when the game had a pre-launch settings window and besides the 60fps setting there was a warning of “not recommended”. The game is chuggy, with consistent drops in framerate, and while it only crashed once, there were a more than a few close calls. While these issues certainly don’t make the game unplayable (unless you try to play at 60fps, yikes!), it does make Little King’s Story another entry in the long list of sloppy PC port-jobs.

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If the performance issues get fixed, I’d highly recommend Little King’s Story on PC, especially those who can’t find it on the Wii. It’s a fun, cute little game that’s like Pikmin in all the right ways. It’s fun and challenging, albeit a bit easy, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Unholy Heights (3DS) Review

Unholy Heights (3DS) Review

I remember being very interested in Tomodachi Life when it first came out, but I never got around to playing it until I was swept up in the fervour that was Miitomo (which I maintain is still a lite version of Tomodachi Life.) While managing an apartment filled with my Miis and watching their quirky shenanigans was fun for a little while, there was never any real gameplay to keep me invested, and now I lament the purchase. Unholy Heights feels like the game I should have purchased back then, being one part Tomodachi Life, one part Fallout Shelter and all parts fun!

In Unholy Heights, players take on the role of the Devil, who, as the game states, spent his life savings on a place in the projects. Global domination is the name of the game, but the Devil has to start small; attracting monsters one at a time to live in his complex until his army is large enough to deploy.

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Unholy Heights on PC

Unholy Heights plays fairly simply. Players will manage their apartment complex, await potential monsters to take up residence and then collect rent on a daily basis. The game allows for three speeds of progression that players can adjust on the fly, providing them with the option to choose the speed at which the days move.

As monsters move in, you’ll not only need to make sure their apartments are in top form, but also provide them with items they may want. Keeping residents happy is vital as it ensures they pay their rent fully and also affects the Devil’s standing with them. It doesn’t end there. Monsters have particular needs, affinities/contempt for other monsters, and other factors that will increase or decrease the Devil’s standing with them; reading the Bestiary is crucial to understanding the 20 different types of unlockable monsters, and keeping Unholy Heights running smoothly.

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Unholy Heights on PC

The game isn’t just watching the days go by and the rent money to up; the human residents of Unholy Heights aren’t particularly thrilled that the Devil is attempting to amass an army of monsters, and will periodically come to attack his apartment before making off with a portion of his money. Players will have to call on residents to defend the Devil and this is where a decent amount of strategy comes into Unholy Heights. Players must choose their strongest monsters to repel incoming attackers using a combination of melee and ranged attacks, as well as selecting when residents should attack or retreat to their rooms to avoid death. A clever Devil might send a melee monster to tank while a magic monster deals ranged damage, or wait until humans are deep into the apartment before calling on residents to try flank enemies.

Players can also take on “quests” listed on a nearby message board, which usually involves defeating waves of multiple humans for big cash bonuses. Time management is also a key factor in battles and players must pay attention to when residents are home or leave to run errands, lest they be left with an empty apartment when invaders come-a-knockin. Although, this isn’t so much a problem for random invaders as it is with quests.

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Unholy Heights on PC

Given Unholy Heights’ dark premise, it’s actually quite a cute and charming game. The game’s minimalistic visual style lends itself nicely to its simplistic gameplay. Everything takes place on one screen, reducing clutter and making sure everything easy to navigate. Visuals have a colourful and cartoony style while feeling very dynamic as weather changes—residents come and go and both the sun and moon (complete with faces) scroll across the sky, as if the background were on a pinwheel.

Monsters and humans have an adorable chibi style, and much of the flavour text for residents’ activities adds a deviously risqué sense of humour to such a seemingly cute game. Players may be surprised when they find their residents “sleeping naked,” “reading erotic fan-fiction,” or if two monsters fall in love and seal the deal, “engaging in pillow-talk” followed immediately by “feeling relieved.”

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Unholy Heights also has a simple but quaint soundtrack, and while it only consists of five tracks, they feel like tracks Kazumi Totaka could have created for Animal Crossing. The two-day themes alternate between a smooth upbeat synth track, to a poppy, ska-inspired number while the night theme is calm and quiet with whistled notes. The latter honestly sounds the most like it belongs in Animal Crossing. The battle theme is probably the best: a fast-paced, chiptune J-Pop track that makes the simplistic battles feel fast and fun.

It seems odd that Unholy Heights would make the jump from Steam to the 3DS instead of mobile given how perfectly its gameplay lends itself to a fast, pick up-and-play style, most at home on mobile. However, for a $6.00 dollar digital offering, it’s the perfect game for any 3DS owner to keep on their system where they can easily drop in and out. Charming, stylish, and simple without being boring, Unholy Heights is a must own.

Space Food Truck (PC) Review

Space Food Truck (PC) Review

Space. The final frontier. We’ve seen so much space in games, from trying to protect it in Mass Effect or defying every conceivable law about it in Super Mario Galaxy. It’s a realm of infinite possibilities and endless creativity. But for all the intergalactic warriors and bounty hunters, no one ever thinks about the unsung heroes of space: the humble space chefs.

Those of you who are familiar with my work know my relationship with Harvest Moon and that it is the reason I love rainy days. What you may not know is that it also sparked my affinity for cooking. This is why the prospect of Space Food Truck was so interesting to me. It’s so simple, yet so brilliant: what would it be like to be a food truck, in SPACE! And while the concept is simple, the game certainly is not, offering a challenging and engaging experience that surpassed all my expectations.

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Space Food Truck puts the player in charge of plucky Galaxy Gormet crew. Their mission: to explore the galaxy and feed hungry bellies. They’ll find exotic planets and peoples, gather only the freshest ingredients and do their best to serve up the most delicious food this side of Andromeda.  Players take control of The Captain, who steers the ship; The Chef, who cooks the food; The Scientist, who does science; and The Engineer, who keeps the ship running. In order to beat the game, players need to explore a pretty vast galaxy, complete three objectives in the form of creating recipes and try to stay alive while doing so.

Gameplay is just as interesting in Space Food Truck. Initially I had thought SFT would play like FTL, mixing RTS with RPG elements. However, STF is actually a strategic card game with little Oregon Trail events peppered in before each turn. Each member of the crew draws different cards unique to their abilities. Players then try to stack “throwaway” cards in order to boost the effects of specific action cards. The Captain may draw an “Engage” card, allowing the player to travel to distant planets. Depending on how many cards they stack, adding power to their main card determine how many planets they can visit.

It’s an interesting and unique system, however it seems out of place is with The Chef. Given the random nature of drawing cards, it never seemed like I could get the ingredients I needed and a “Cook” card in the same hand. And since you discard your hand at the end of every turn, and there’s no way to bank cards, it was always a roll of the dice on whether you could cook something or not. This is the one place where Space Food Truck felt less about Food Truckin’ and more about dumb luck. Space Food Truck also features a multiplayer mode where four players can team up to take on individual roles within the Galaxy Gourmet, adding an interesting level of chance and teamwork to the game.

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Stylistically, SFT is simple and charming with well drawn cartoon characters, and lots of bright colors that brings a lot of charm and life to the game. Couple that with a fun and simple sci-fi soundtrack behind it and you have a title that looks and feels great.

My only real complaint with Space Food Truck is it’s lack of a proper tutorial. Rather than give players a basic rundown of the game, via the gameplay, SFT prompts players to watch a Youtube video with a rather dull explanation on how the game works.  Being a more hands-on learner, I quickly tuned out of this video in favor of just jumping into the game and learning as I played.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Space Food Truck, and not exactly for the reasons I thought I would. It’s a challenging and engaging card game, set in a fascinating and fun universe. It’s a real gem that only a better tutorial, and elements that make the cooking part of this game easier, could improve. Now if someone could make a space food truckin’ game like No Man’s Sky, I would give them all my money.